It was Chinese New Year and a holiday when my buddies finally convinced me to join them for a climb. If you knew me, you would know that I don’t have the best cardio in the world (far from it, really). I worry that I might hold up the rest of the group because I’m slow, or maybe I might injure myself in the attempt. After much negotiation, in which they pretty much catered to my every request (not to complicated climb, not too expensive etc., etc.), we finally settled on Mt. Pico de Loro in Ternate, Cavite as the destination of my first day hike (They’ve been there before, they just accommodated me. Yes, I have great friends).
Eventually, our small group of three expanded to 16. We were joined by my officemate Rene’s group of friends, and we were very lucky that they were an awesome bunch. We rented a jeep for P4,000 and met up at Dasmariñas before 5 am. We reached our destination at around 7 am and logged in at the DENR mini office at the base of the mountain and paid a minimal fee of P20 per head for the use of DENR facilties like the toilet and huts. There are times that the DENR personnel lecture hikers on the rules when visiting Pico de Loro.
Pico de Loro, also known as the Parrot’s Peak, is a popular destination for newbie climbers, although at 664 meters above sea level, it is one of highest peaks in Calabarzon, because it is actually part of the Mt. Palay Palay- Mataas na Gulod Protected Landscape. Because of the rich biodiversity in the area, it is essential for hikers and mountaineers to observe the rules when traversing the mountain. Its pretty simple, really — pick up after oneself and don’t destroy anything on the way up or down. Sadly, some of the hikers have vandalized some of the trees by scratching and writing on them, as well as the rocks. True, conquering mountains is a pretty memorable achievement but not at the expense of marring the beauty of Nature with markings.
Reaching the base camp took us roughly an hour, and we registered anew in a different log book. We paid another P20, this time to help with the maintenance of the site. However, the base camp does not come close to covering the first leg of the journey. It is merely an introduction to the challenges ahead for those who want to reach the top and tick off an item on their bucket lists. At the base camp, hikers can fill up their bottles and canteens with cool water sourced from a nearby spring. There are also two cubicles for showering/ answering the call of nature. There are no more of these amenities on the way up so this is a last chance for those who want to visit the loo or wash up. For dog lovers, there are some dogs who thrive on the attention of the hikers and they’re very friendly. Some even accompany their new friends to the top and serve as guides.
Following the base camp, the trail gets a bit more challenging as the path gets pretty uneven so its advisable not to use thick pants like jeans because it impedes movement. I was wearing jeans thinking they provide better protection from the shrubbery but alas, I miscalculated and paid the price for my folly. It is better to wear trekking pants which are lighter and gives wearers more room for movement, something that is essential in negotiating the bigger steps required for uneven surfaces. A trekking pole comes in handy for the assault parts of the trail. One thing I learned from my journey was that hikers call ascending paths assault. Assault is just about right because I felt like my muscles were being assaulted on the way up. So for beginners, training for at least a week before the climb is important or else, your muscles will be screaming halfway to the top. When I wasn’t focusing on catching my breath, I took the time to appreciate my surroundings and the serenity of the area. After all, its not everyday that one can commune with nature and out in some much needed exercise that is not readily available during the workday.
Hikers seemed to have agreed that the holiday was a good day to climb because we passed over a hundred of trekkers on our way up. Some were smarter and camped overnight the day before so they were already on the way down when everyone else (including us) were going up. I am not exaggerating when I gave the number estimate. When we reached the camp site some three hours (and a lot of perspiration) later, there seemed to be a convention of sorts as tents peppered the site to the point where late arrivals would have no place to pitch their own portable abodes.It was nuts, but I was glad because I felt the general sense of inclusion that mountaineers and hikers have in their community. No wonder there are a lot of people who enjoy the outdoors so much.
After the campsite, we headed out to the summit which was roughly 15-20 minutes of pure assault. It was more difficult to climb because soil was not too stable and there were a lot of rocks along the way. After a short breather, we had to hold on to cogons (wild grass) gradually make our way to the top. Everyone seemed to be really friendly and really happy to see each other. Strangers greeting each other when they pass by and a lot of them actively helping us out, literally reaching out their hands for us to cling to when the terrain seemed too tough, especially on the way to the summit. Not only were we coached and encouraged on climbing techniques by fellow hikers but four to five guys almost had to pull me up and pass me around before I reached the top. Same thing on the way down. They were probably more tired from the effort than I but that did not discourage me from extending their help to other members of our group.
At last! The view from the summit was nothing short of magnificent. A 360 view of mountains, seas and clouds surrounding Pico de Loro contributed to the sense of accomplishment I felt after the four hour climb. But it seemed like there was another challenge awaiting adventure seekers. Pico de Loro had not one but two summits, the second one being the Peak, a giant slab of stone that was next to a steep ravine. Those who dared to reach the top really had to dig in deep to rely only on their skill and single rope dangling from the top. I didn’t attempt to conquer the second peak because I was a beginner and a bit on the clumsy side. Besides, I promised my folks that I will go back home alive so I contented myself watching as half of our group ventured towards the next challenge and took pictures of their success instead.
Despite the exhaustion, my first climb was a great experience. One that I would surely be repeating soon. Challenging, true. But rewarding nonetheless. The sense of accomplishment and the opportunity to appreciate nature. Making friends and being embraced into a community of these great natured outdoorsmen? Priceless.